Courtesy NASA/JPL/Cornell University.

As more images come to Earth from the Spirit rover on Mars, astronomers are being ever more tantalized by Gusev Crater. Today NASA released the highest resolution picture ever taken of Mars. The mosaic image, 4,000 by 3,000 pixels, is of the area in front of the rover and was shot while Spirit remained in its "seated" position. Engineers predict the rover may stand on its wheels as early as tomorrow and could start to roll to targets next week.

The detailed view shows rocks of various sizes and shapes. Most are smooth, perhaps due to thousands of years of sand-blasting from Mars's dusty winds. Seen above is a small portion of the mosaic. It contains a peculiar rock that appears to have been exposed relatively recently. On the right side are marks from where the rover retracted its airbags and inadvertently dug rocks into the soil. The process created deep grooves and overturned darker dirt. "It looks like mud, but it can't be mud," says Steven Squyres (Cornell University). What is it? Astronomers don't know. But images like these are "just the tip of the iceberg of what we will see" from Spirit in the coming days and weeks.

The full view is available for download from NASA.


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